Virtual UMES commencement held for last of the 2020 grads

PRINCESS ANNE — The University of Maryland Eastern Shore bid farewell Dec. 18 to its final group of seniors in the Class of 2020 with a 36-minute commencement celebration video in lieu of a mid-December ceremony typically held in front of thousands in the William P. Hytche Athletic Center.

The global pandemic forced the university to start and end the fall 2020 semester earlier than normal — and subsequently prevented small-gathering graduation events that were scheduled for Nov. 20.

The accelerated spread of COVID-19 in November led elected and public health officials to issue directives that made UMES’ strategy to hold intimate, in-person commencements obsolete.

The university subsequently dusted off a plan it initially crafted in the spring, when in-person classes were replaced the final seven weeks with students dialing into lectures via digital platforms. The UMES administration produced an online tribute in May featuring recorded remarks from President Heidi M. Anderson, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, voluntary testimonial videos from seniors and a robust carousel of campus life photos set to music.

The December commencement followed essentially the same script that the university scrambled to assemble in less time. Nonetheless, it reflected the joy associated with the rite of passage for some 230 graduates.

Seniors in the November-December graduating class endured mandatory COVID-19 testing, had no intercollegiate athletics and fewer social activities, and finished the bell lap of their undergraduate career following a “hybrid” schedule that meant sometimes they attended classes in person and other times participated online.

When state and University System of Maryland leaders directed public colleges to take more aggressive safety steps to head off the spread of the virus, UMES invited seniors to visit during exam week and have their pictures taken in caps and gowns at favorite locales.

Dr. Jennifer Keane-Dawes, a professor of English and Modern Languages, said graduation is akin to the light at the end of a tunnel. “Welcome to the light,” she said. “You are standing in it.”

That sentiment was echoed by Dr. Richard Warren, a three-time UMES graduate and professor of education: “Welcome to the family.” To see the video titled “UMES 2020 Commencement Celebration” go to YouTube.com.